You’re sitting on your couch, enjoying a relaxing snuggle with your pooch, and suddenly you think “Wait?! Fido is feeling a little extra cushy… Is my dog getting fat?”
Healthy food habits prevent obesity in our pets, which is why finding the best weight loss dog food for an overweight dog can make the weight management process much easier for you.
Whether you’re trying to shed some pounds from your pudgy dog or just acting preventatively, there are many factors to consider. We will walk you through the best ways to manage your dog’s weight and maintain a consistent healthy feeding routine. We will look at:
Chapter 1: Choosing Appropriate Dog Food
Obesity in pets can be a very serious and potentially life-threatening issue, and in a 2017 clinical study, an estimated 60% of cats and 57% of dogs were either overweight or obese! Animals with weight problems are more likely to develop diabetes, hip dysplasia, and arthritis, all of which lower their quality of life and leave pet owners with hefty vet bills.
Having weight problems can decrease your pet’s lifespan and damage their well-being.
Just as with people, dietary requirements are not as simple as “calories in” vs. “calories out”. How much you feed your dog or cat will depend on the type and size of your dog, their activity levels, their life stage, any genetic predispositions and the type and quality of their food.
Foods for Different Life Stages
Using the appropriate type of food for your pet’s life stage will make a huge difference.
The standard timeline to switch your puppy off of growth formula is between 8 months to 10 months for small breed dogs, 10 months to a year for medium breed dogs, and 12 months up to 2 1/2 years for large or extra-large breed dogs.
These puppy formulas are often higher in calories, protein, and fat and have the potential to cause your pet to gain extra weight if fed for too long. If your pet is still growing into their adult frame, juvenile foods are an important source of quality nutrients to build muscle and provide energy.
Using the 9-point Body Conditioning Score, you can routinely check your pets weight and development to indicate if you are ready to change from a growth formula to a maintenance food.
Pregnant or nursing dogs have a higher calorie requirement and we recommended that they be fed a juvenile formula in the later stages of pregnancy and while nursing their young.
When your pet reaches their senior years, which can vary depending on the breeds lifespan, it’s recommended to feed an appropriate senior formula or all life stage food which has moderate to high protein levels, and increase omega 3 fatty acids to support brain function and metabolism.
Seniors and puppies have a higher requirement for omega fatty acids, so anything labeled as adult may be lacking in this vital nutrition. Appropriate life-stage or all life-stage formulas are recommended for puppies or senior dogs.
Avoiding Pet Food High in Fillers
Foods that are high in fillers, salt, animal by-products, and other poor quality ingredients can lead to chronic digestive problems including dehydration, increased stool output, and that feeling of never being satisfied, causing your pet to keep going back to the food dish.
Cornmeal, for example, is a very cheap ingredient found in abundance in many lower quality pet foods. Highly-processed corn such as corn meal is high on the glycemic index, which indicates how much it affects blood sugar levels, leading to scattered and inconsistent energy distribution.
High-glycemic foods are digested quicker than lower-glycemic foods, even though they may contain the same amount of calories. In this way, you may find your pet consuming more calories, feeling more hungry, and therefore gaining more weight on foods with a high filler content.
To Grain or Not to Grain?
Grain-free kibbles are often linked to the term low-glycemic, and are recommended to stabilize blood sugar and aid digestion, but watch out! Some grain-free formulas are still very calorie dense and and not a low on the glycemic index as you may think. Replacing grains with white rice or potatoes will not lower the effect that the food will have on your dog’s blood sugar levels.
Depending on your pet’s activity level, your pet may need more or less animal protein and fat in their diet, and the rest of the food is predominantly carbohydrates. Even in higher protein kibbles, carbohydrates can be quite high, which is why it’s even more important to make sure that the carbs in your dogs food are low-glycemic and nutrient dense.
Instead of going completely grain free, you may wish to choose a food with healthy, lower glycemic grain choices such as oats, barley, or brown rice. These ingredients will still provide energy, but will digest slower and distribute more evenly over time.
Glycemic Index Chart
*These values are based on the human index. There is currently no conversion table for dog or cat levels
We call these foods grain friendly. Grain friendly foods can be just as healthy as a grain free formulas. With any diet, look at each ingredients individually to determine if they’re right for your pet.
Blanket terms like grain free are often used to give you the impression that the food is better for your pet than another, but the quality of the ingredients needs to be assessed to determine if they are right for you.
Diet Dog Food Formulas
For animals with more severe weight issues, a lower calorie, low-glycemic food may not be the only solution to consider. Weight problems can be the cause of inactivity, making it even harder for your pet to lose weight. Simply feeding a low calorie or weight loss formula can help regulate their daily caloric intake, but it still may not be enough for some dogs to achieve their weight loss goals.
Look for foods that are high in fibre as well as low-glycemic, and avoid fillers. Foods rich in peas, lentils, oats, barley or sweet potatoes are a better choice to improve digestion and help your pet feel fuller after mealtime, reducing cravings and begging.
These types of foods are not always marketed as weight management or low calorie, but are still full of these healthy ingredients and can help your pet manage their weight.
Diet formulas may seem like the holy grail of pet weight loss, but often dogs and cats still don’t lose weight on them. It’s important to understand that how much you feed and how many calories are in each meal, are just part of the solution to obesity, and not the only factor.
Remember, many food claims on your pet food bag are just clever marketing tricks. Be savvy about the ingredients in your pet’s food, and you can decide for yourself what would be a healthier choice for your pet’s weight control program.
The Less-Processed Difference
Processed foods just don’t compare with whole food ingredients. In addition, less-processed foods have a much higher moisture content than standard kibble, which ensure proper hydration and can help your pet feel more full.
While a homemade cooked or raw diet is not for everyone, the difference it can make in your pet’s health and weight can be significant. Even if you don’t have the time or tools to ensure your pet is getting all the proper nutrients in a homemade diet, there are ways to make less-processed, whole food choices when it comes to your dog.
Here are a few commercially made options:
Choosing any of these options, or incorporating them into your pet’s diet, even as a supplement, can help your pet use calories and nutrients more effectively. These foods lose fewer nutrients during processing and as a result, are more healthful.
What does that mean for your pet’s weight? They can get more usable nutrients in fewer calories (we call this bioavailability in the industry).
You can also try incorporating whole fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein into your dog treat routine. Cooked eggs, plain yogurt, chicken, spinach, carrots, apples, and broccoli are just a few suggestions.
Just make sure nothing you feed is on this list of dangerous human foods for dogs.
Chapter 2: Control Your Feeding
Every commercial pet food has a feeding guideline to help you determine how much you should be feeding based on your pet’s weight, and occasionally their life stage.
This sounds really helpful, but it’s important to note that this is a recommendation and you should adjust to suit your unique dog.
Let’s go through some of the common feeding mistakes that can cause your dog’s diet to fail.
If you have a dog who is overweight, even by a little bit, it’s time to change. Check how much you are feeding your pet. Feeding guidelines on your dog food label are only recommendations, but they are also a good starting point. Your pet may need more or less food for varying reasons.
Here are some of the factors that aren’t always represented in the recommended feeding guidelines:
All of these factors can change how much you should be feeding. When adjusting feeding portions, go slow. We recommend cutting or increasing your dog’s meals by no more than 10% at a time.
Below is a sample feeding guideline for a premium weight management dog food. Notice that there are two sets of guidelines, one for maintenance and one for weight loss. Weight management foods are marketed for weight loss but are also a great tool for maintaining healthy weight in pets that are prone to weight issues, seniors and pets with very sedentary lifestyles.
These guidelines are a great tool to start with and can be adjusted as needed to suit your individual pet’s needs.
|Weight of Dog (kg/lb)||Weight Maintenance (g/cup)*||Weight Loss (g/cup)*|
|5kg / 11lb||60g / ½ cup||60g / ½ cup|
|10kg / 22lb||120g / 1 cup||90g / ¾ cup|
|20kg / 44lb||180g / 1½ cups||180g / 1½ cups|
|30kg / 66lb||270g / 2¼ cups||240g / 2 cups|
|40kg / 88lb||320g / 2⅔ cups||300g / 2½ cups|
|50kg / 110lb||360g / 3 cups||360g / 3 cups|
|60kg / 132lb||420g / 3½ cups||390g / 3⅓ cups|
*120 grams = 1 cup
Be careful not to put your pet on a starvation diet. Cutting calories or reducing feedings too much, too fast, will not help your pet lose weight and keep it off, or worse you could be dropping weight off of your dog too quickly which can lead to malnutrition and muscle depletion.
Larger portion restrictions to your pet’s food should be a last resort and done as per a recommendation from your veterinarian. Otherwise, you could be denying your pet crucial nutrients or limiting the amount of energy that their bodies have to work with.
Remember that diet works best in combination with exercise, and you can’t expect your dog to increase activity levels if they don’t have enough energy to expend.
If you haven’t yet, switch to a higher quality food, and try incorporating daily muscle-building exercise (otherwise known as an active game of fetch at the park or a healthy walk or two around the block).
Many pets, especially food motivated ones, will often gorge themselves. Either they get too excited at the prospect of eating, or they feel that another animal in the house might sneak in and steal a few bites of their precious food.
How they digest their food can be affected by how quickly they are inhaling it. Dogs who skip chewing or take enormous mouthfuls at a time are much less likely to properly digest and utilize the calories.
Slowing them down will improve their digestion and maximize their weight loss program. Slow feed bowls, treat puzzle toys, and a variety of other feeding toys can be very useful to help your dog take smaller bites and encourage chewing.
Chapter 3: Lifestyle Changes
While it’s a big part of your pet’s healthy weight, food is not the only factor. An active lifestyle is recommended for all pets as a necessary step to weight loss and maintenance.
Getting into a routine of physical activity is not always easy for overweight pets, but every little bit counts. Find fun ways to increase your pet’s daily physical activity.
Both mental and physical activities can help contribute to a more active lifestyle. Find games that your dog can get excited about and make them a daily activity. Check out this article to learn more about exercising your pet.
The most effective part of any healthy routine is strict, or as strict as possible, scheduled feeding times. Each of us has our mealtime routines that keep us active and ready to face our day, and our pets need the same.
However many meals that you are feeding per day, those times should be as consistent as possible. This helps their bodies adapt to the caloric intake as well as the increased activity.
Not all pets will be as thrilled about their new routines or portion sizes as you are, but with time, they will adapt and be better for it. This should make mealtime easier and quicker for you and for your dog.
Cravings will begin to diminish as they adjust and you won’t feel the guilt caused by those sad, sad puppy eyes.
Just like any diet or lifestyle change, there is a matter of will power involved, but in this case, it’s not our dogs that need to summon the will power, it’s us!
Perseverance = Success
Food is so important to your pet’s healthy weight. Make smart choices about the quality and type of food you offer your pet as it is the best preventative against obesity and secondary health issues.
The choices you make for nutrition today can affect your pet for a lifetime. Not every routine is right for every dog, so don’t be afraid to try something new and see if the results meet their needs.
Most importantly, give it time to take effect. There is no easy button for weight loss. Any change can be a struggle, but it’s important to not give up if you aren’t immediately seeing the results that you desire. If possible, weigh your pet weekly to better monitor progress and make small adjustments as needed.
Small victories and goals can help you see the benefit and progress of your pet’s transition. For larger breeds, celebrating a 2 lb weight loss may not seem huge, but it is a step in the right direction. Find little victories to help motivate you to continue working towards your pets healthiest weight goals.
Tell us about your dog’s weight loss success stories in the comments below!